The Living Dead

The elevator speech. It’s a classic business training tool:  “You’re in an elevator with a venture capitalist, and want to sell him on your whacked-out business idea.  Tell it.  No fluff, just get to the punch.”

We also see a version of this at awards banquets.  The “biography” – where the award recipient is recognized via slide show and narrative.  It’s a life story of sorts, with photos – where we are told more about how a colleague lives outside the workplace.  What are his hobbies?  What does he value?  What’s the wife look like?  Kids?

Last weekend, i had the opportunity to spend a few days with two cousins.  We’d made a pact at the last funeral to spend time together when we weren’t in the midst of planting a loved one.  And so we did!  The weekend was a delicious mixture of adventure and exploring a new town, catching up on current events, and sorting through our shared familial demons.

My cousin, L, is a free-spirited woman, leading an eclectic life.  She’s a columnist for her local newspaper, works as an administrative assistant at a school, has successfully raised four children, and finds time for some off-the-wall hobbies and interests.

As we wandered city streets, gabbing about odds and ends, i learned that one of L’s hobbies is to serve on a committee of volunteer historians in her hometown.  Specifically, they spend time documenting the lives of people buried in the town cemetery, with ‘residents’ dating back to the civil war.

Each year they research ten dead residents.  From these facts, they craft a five-minute script.  During the month of October, they host tours – local actors, wearing custom-made, historically accurate costumes, then tell the tales of the dead.

The script must be factually accurate, but at the same time, sufficiently engaging to hold the interest of those attending the tours. 

“We are giving a voice to the dead”.

She admits, there’s a bit of inconsistency in the quality of the scripts, and sometimes the performances are a little uneven.  Some writers focus on dates and events – “I graduated from the Naval Academy in 1867 and earned my commission on November 12th of that year” may be factually correct, but not exactly the stuff that keeps you riveted in your seat.

pic found here

Giving voices to the dead.  A different approach to living history. 

It certainly triggers another thought experiment…

How would you want your life story told a hundred years from now? 

What would your story be if it was solely based on research by an amateur historian?